Maja (The Nocturnal Library)'s Reviews > Napier's Bones

Napier's Bones by Derryl Murphy
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For me, reading Napier’s Bones was very much like reading a book in Slovenian or Spanish – I understood most of it if I read slowly enough, but those big words I didn’t understand were the most important ones for the story. Except that a dictionary wouldn’t be nearly enough in this case. A degree in math would.

I have to admit that this was a fantastic idea, but it was poorly executed. The end result is a very confusing and incomplete worldbuilding that led to many passages like:
Dom stood on the chair and wove some numbers around the smoke alarm so that it wouldn’t go off, then pulled some more numbers and formulae into a ball and raced it around the room, chasing the remaining fragments of smoke and scooping them up like Pac-Man trying to get a cheap high.”

Or even worse:

He wasn’t being harassed anymore, so he waved a hand and stopped the flow, let the numbers begin their journey back up and into the numerical ecology. Some sprang into the air with great energy, others were more sluggish, skittering or even just crawling along the pavement of the alley before finally finding enough juice to push themselves back into the air.

The problem with building a world around something like math is that you have to be very careful how you do it. As far as I could see, Murphy mostly just threw in random mathematical terms and then used math itself like some kind of magic wand. I don’t understand math very well and I have no problems admitting it (view spoiler), but something didn’t add up here. That much was obvious even to me.

Another thing I had a huge problem with was the 3rd person narrative. Dom is a numerate, he sees numbers everywhere and he is able to control them up to a point. He has no formal education, meaning he’s not a mathematician at all, but he understands math in a way a normal person can’t. He’s very good at what he does – in fact, he’s quite convinced that he is the best. That’s why he is stunned by his failure to acquire the artifact all numerates want: the one containing Napier’s mojo. (view spoiler) Instead of getting his hands on something that belonged to the most powerful mathematician and numerate, Dom ends up with an adjunct, a shadow, a separate consciousness sharing his body. Billy, the adjunct, becomes an equal partner: he is just as much in control of Dom’s body as Dom himself. That’s exactly why 3rd person narrative made a mess of things. This should have been Dom’s story or Billy’s story, told in 1st person. At least that way every pronoun wouldn’t have been a torture. After every ‘he said’, ‘he did’ I had to go back half a page to make sure which ‘he’ did something completely ordinary, like scratch their shared head. I never knew who the author was referring to and it was a nightmare. Derryl Murphy probably knows a lot about math, but communicative competence is not one of his strong points.

Because of the whole adjunct situation, the dialogues between Dom and Billy were also very weird. It was easy enough to forget that the two of them were using the same mouth to talk to each other (with different accents), but once I allowed myself to think about how ridiculous something like that would look, nothing they said was important at all.

Napier’s Bones has some great moments, it is fast paced and I really had fun when I wasn’t busy rolling my eyes. I think some of my friends will like it far more than I did.

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Reading Progress

June 16, 2011 – Started Reading
June 16, 2011 – Shelved
June 16, 2011 –
0.0% "Perfect book for a math idiot such as myself."
June 16, 2011 –
5.0% "This book will give me a headache. It's a challenge, though, and I can't resist."
June 18, 2011 –
10.0% "So confusing. It should have been 1st person. This way it's all just a big mess."
June 18, 2011 –
June 18, 2011 –
40.0% ""Incomplete sets, broken-down theorems, strings and individual numbers, primes and wholes and even some imaginary numbers, all crashed into the alley with a clatter and banging loud enough to wake a numerate dead." *groans*"
June 19, 2011 – Finished Reading

Comments (showing 1-25 of 25) (25 new)

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message 1: by Limonessa (new)

Limonessa I think this might have something to do with Chichipio's reading challenge's prime number...

message 2: by Catie (new)

Catie WHOA. Math = magic?!! That sounds AWESOME.

Maja (The Nocturnal Library) Catie, you can read the ebook online. Just go to the book page. Or you can wait for me to finish it, and then read it. Lol. So far, it's making me doubt my own intelligence.

message 4: by Catie (new)

Catie What? The mistress of languages doubts her intelligence? Come on!

I mean, I can only speak one language...besides the tiny amount of french that I remember from high school, and the few random phrases of spanish that I learned from living in Arizona for 16 years. You multilingual people really impress me.

Maja (The Nocturnal Library) Yeah, but that's verbal-linguistic intelligence! My logical-mathematical intelligence is below zero. It can't be helped!

Chichipio Oh, this looks promising. And why would you even want to have logical-mathematical intelligence? Unless you're part of a sitcom, that's one of the most boring kinds of intelligence.

Don't be an intelligence hoarder or we'll have to do an intervention. Leave something for the rest of us. Hmmm… "Abstract hoarders." That's not a bad idea for the show. People are getting tired of watching lazy people inventing excuses to have their houses cleaned up (ha! As if it were possible to get tired from that).

Maja (The Nocturnal Library) You mean, unless I'm doctor Sheldon Cooper?!? The only thing he and I have in common is a serious lack of interpersonal intelligence.

Plus, it's all your fault, anyway. You and your primes. I know a challenge when I see one.

And please stop. First you make me laugh at 5.30 in the morning, and now you're doing it at 9 too? It's not fair! I'm supposed to be serious here, but I can't.

message 8: by Catie (new)

Catie Nobody uses logic anymore anyway. It's a useless intelligence to have in this day and age. It's gone the way of the calculator watch and the pay telephone.

Whereas, knowing how to decipher the language of the alien overlords that eventually arrive to kill us all...yeah, I'm pretty sure that's going to be useful. We all know how Stargate went down, that's all I'm saying.

Maja (The Nocturnal Library) I knew it!!! Whoever said that linguists aren't useful to society should be shot (I hear that every day). I won't bother saving them, that's for sure.

LOL, how did you even think of the calculator watch?!? I haven't seen one in at least a decade

message 10: by Catie (new)

Catie My father was quite fond of them back in the day. He may even still have one!

Maja (The Nocturnal Library) Lol, great!

Oh, and for the record, I really don't speak that many languages. My friend/colleague is a comparative linguist. He speaks everything from Russian to Swedish, Lithuanian, Italian, English (of course) and Romanian. I think I must have forgotten something.

message 12: by Catie (new)

Catie So...what's your laundry list? Either way, you already speak one more than I can.

Also, why did you write (of course) next to English?

Maja (The Nocturnal Library) Of course, because it would be seriously weird if he spoke Lithuanian, but not English.

My list is much shorter - English (such as it is), Italian, and I'm learning Russian now, but I'm still terrible! I have every intention of learning Romanian in the near future.

message 14: by Limonessa (new)

Limonessa This sounds - the quotes in particular - like an LSD-induced-trip kind of book.
Also, I suck at math too.

Maja (The Nocturnal Library) It is! It's completely insane. I'm going to need some time to recover. I'll probably only read picture books for the next few days.

message 16: by [deleted user] (new)

I admire that you stuck with it. Not sure I would have.

message 17: by Tatiana (last edited Jun 19, 2011 08:25AM) (new)

Tatiana WTH? A math-based magic? What's next?

Maja (The Nocturnal Library) @365andMe - It wasn't that hard... and I did have to write a review.

@Tatiana - I really don't know. The idea had potential, but the result is just meh.

message 19: by Catie (new)

Catie "but something just doesn't add up here..."


Maja (The Nocturnal Library) Oh, Catie. First I discover that you have great taste in music, then you explain how linguists will save the world, and now you appreciate my lousy sense of humor?!?

You can definitely come live with me! :D

message 21: by Catie (new)

Catie Oh good! I thought that offer may have been rescinded when you witnessed my musical pairings getting progressively wussier and wussier :)

It's always good to have a back up plan!

Chichipio I'm only 22% into it, but I can already agree with this part:
The problem with building a world around something like math is that you have to be very careful how you do it. As far as I could see, Murphy mostly just threw in random mathematical terms and then used math itself like some kind of magic wand. I don’t understand math very well and I have no problems admitting it (view spoiler), but something didn’t add up here. That much was obvious even to me.

message 23: by Maja (The Nocturnal Library) (last edited Jun 28, 2011 10:25PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Maja (The Nocturnal Library) Wait - what?!? You're reading this now? I'm so glad! Not because I think you'll like it - you won't, but because I seriously need a second opinion on this! Like, an opinion from someone who actually knows how to multiply! :D

message 24: by karen (new)

karen i like your spoiler alerts in this one. i love CZP as a publisher, but i knew that this one was not for me, so it is good to have confirmation.

Maja (The Nocturnal Library) Thank you! The problem is, it could have been quite interesting! Murphy really needed to pay more attention to worldbuilding. This way it ended up being pretty confusing.

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